Political football? No, it's more important than that

Members of Congress played amateur sports commissioners again yesterday as the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection held a hearing on the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS), which determines — at least in theory — college football’s national champion.

But first it was left to members to argue whether they should be hearing the issue at all. “I believe my constituents are wondering why this Congress and their congresswoman are talking about football” when there are so many other pressing concerns, said ranking member Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.).

But Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the full committee, said, “Man doesn’t live by policy alone. Sports is an important part of American society.” He emphasized there would be no legislation introduced to change the system.

Once that was settled, along with some cheerleading and trash talking for members’ home-state teams, notably by Reps. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), it was time to bash the BCS.

Members agreed it is a deeply flawed system. “I think it’s something the federal government designed,” Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) said before citing the incomprehensible formula by which the BCS determines rankings.

Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) argued that determining the champion on the field might be a better option than “fuzzy math.”

The college athletics officials who appeared as witnesses argued for the BCS on the grounds that a playoff system would harm bowl system traditions, be detrimental to student athletes and diminish the importance of the regular season.

Any reform would leave sports fans one less thing to carp about. “I think part of the fun of college sports is the BCS and arguing about it,” Terry said.

Rep. Charlie Gonzales (D-Texas), an avowed University of Texas fan, proposed “a field hearing on this in Pasadena on Jan. 4 at halftime,” where the Longhorns will play the University of Southern California for all the marbles. He also wondered aloud to the witnesses where he could “get a couple of really good tickets.”